Welcome back to Revelation chapter two. Remember that we are reading seven letters from Jesus to seven different churches. Letter number three begins in verse 12:
“To the angel of the church in Pergamum…” (Revelation 2:12).
Pergamum is the compromised church. The word Pergamum means “objectionable marriage.” In this case, a marriage between church and state. Just after 300 AD, a new Roman empire arose under Constantine, and Constantine decided that he would conquer under the sign of the cross. Christianity became the national religion, and politics and power corrupted the church. Suddenly it was fashionable and acceptable to be a Christian. That’s bad. When everyone calls themselves Christian, you find a lot of hypocrites, and genuine Christianity becomes hard to find.
To the compromised church, Jesus presents himself as “him who has the sharp, double-edged sword” (2:12). That’s the Word of God, and the Word pierces and separates.
Jesus encourages this church. Many remained true to His name, and did not renounce their faith. This is important to see in every church. Even in the midst of compromise, there are true believers. Remember Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds. But in verse 14:
“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam,” (2:14).
Balaam was a wicked prophet in the Old Testament. King Balak wanted to destroy God’s people, to curse them. But he couldn’t do it. So Balaam told Balak – here’s what you do… Get your pretty pagan girls, have them seduce the men of God, and in the middle of adultery, worship another God. And it worked. And they were destroyed by their foolish lust.
Balaam’s teaching was the bad marriage: mix worship of God with worship of other gods. God calls this adultery and idolatry. Balaam seduced God’s people into cheating on God.
Back in Constantine’s empire, when Christianity gained political power, the church was seduced, compromised, and corrupted. Lots of pagans joined the church without actually changing their hearts. They kept their pagan customs and holidays, but Christianized them. Christmas trees, Easter eggs, lent, celibate priests with high hats and all the rest – all came from pagan customs. Household altars to pagan gods were replaced with altars to Mary or Jesus, or Christian saints.
Now in some ways, I think they meant well. These items are not necessarily sinful, but when they become the focus and not Jesus, it moves one towards idol worship and thus a violation of the Ten Commandments and spiritual adultery. I am not saying we should refrain from some of these activities, but they need to be understood for their roots and the Church’s intent to allow pagans to keep their holy days and festivals and just make them Christian. But what happened is exactly what it says in verse fourteen about Balaam’s story: idolatry and sexual immorality. Look at the culture surrounding Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, or other holiday events.
Anchored in Hope,
Pastor Phil Johnson